Wednesday 4 June 2008

A Letter of Mary

I seem to be in a bit of a reading slump at the moment. It's not that I don't want to read but having been rather busy for a couple of weeks it's meant that the books I have been reading have taken me ages to get through. And, although I'm not the fastest reader in the entire world, I do find it hard to maintain interest if all I can read is a few pages a day and one book takes ten days to read.

Anyway, regardless of that, I did actually enjoy A Letter of Mary, which is book three in the Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes books by Laurie R. King. Hard really to overstate how much I like this series, it's intelligent, witty and character driven and I love that.

The year is 1923 and life in the Holmes household is quiet. Mary continues with her theology based academic research and Holmes with his chemistry experiments. When Mary suddenly receives a letter from Dorothy Ruskin, an acquaintance from The Holy Land from their time there several years back (during the first book), she is intrigued enough to invite the archaeologist to the house. Dorothy arrives and presents Mary with a beautiful inlaid box which she wishes her to keep. Inside is a papyrus scroll the content of which indicates that it was written by Mary Magdalene to her sister. A bombshell in more ways than one.

A day later, Holmes and Mary hear that Dorothy has been killed in a road accident. They travel to London to verify the facts of her death and quickly discover it was not an accident at all - she was murdered. But who can have wanted the archaeologist dead? It seems Dorothy has been moving in strange circles and a group of zionists, the misogynistic Colonel Edwards, and even her rather odd family are all implicated. Mary and Holmes naturally set about investigating. Mary Russell-Holmes becomes 'Mary Small', a personal secretary, and goes to work for the unpredictable Colonel Edwards, while Holmes, in deep disguise, becomes an odd-job man for Dorothy's sister. Their investigations lead them into some surprising situations and shocking conclusions.

Another excellent installment in this brilliant series. The plot is pacey with a strong undercurrent of menace so that you're never entirely sure what will happen next. The character of Mary Russell-Holmes is one of my favourites in literature now. She's intelligent, bookish, a risk-taker - even though frequently scared out of her wits while taking these risks. She's every bit the equal of Sherlock Holmes and he treats her as such even though he also is occasionally scared out of his wits when she is risking her life for some cause or other. Some find their marriage a bit unbelievable and, yes, there is a huge age-gap. Personally, that doesn't worry me one bit, in fact it's an added attraction as I like unusual romantic couples. I do think too that Laurie King handles the whole thing very tactfully, the sign of a good writer, imo.

It's so nice to still have five more books to read in this series, the next being The Moor which is a tie-in with The Hound of the Baskervilles, I believe. Can't wait.


DesLily said...

hi Cath! Yep I liked this one too.. and if you liked the Hound of the Baskervilles (even if only the movie) you will like The Moor! In that one I laughed outloud a few times at Mary's descriptions when she compairs herself to Holmes (such as a trek thru the moors) To me this book showed her humor best of all!

Jill said...

I love the Mary Russell series so much that I have reread several of the books - not something I tend to do very often with mysteries, but while I enjoy the mystery part of these books, there is so much more there, and I love to revisit the characters and location. She creates a wonderful atmosphere in her novels!

BooksPlease said...

I know what you mean about taking ages to read a book - I often lose the thread and have to backtrack - not enjoyable.

I really must read these books - I like Sherlock Holmes anyway and these sound so good.

Cath said...

I loved The Hound of the Baskervilles, Pat. I've read it several times and seen several versions on TV and film. I think it's my favourite Holmes story so The Moor is going to be a bit special for me.

I agree about atmosphere in the books, Darla. But best of all I love Mary - she's quite normal and ordinary (apart from being very clever) and I like that a lot.

Booksplease: these books are very good. Laurie King's Holmes is pretty authentic, in my opinion and, as Darla said, the atmosphere feels right somehow.

Tara said...

Didn't I just write this post???


It seems these page-turning mystery books are good for a slump. I could use one myself right about now!

Anonymous said...

Me too, me too! Regarding your comment about taking forever to finish a book. I am truly enjoying the mystery book club offering, IN A DRY SEASON, that I am reading, but it is taking me forever. I don't have much time right now and the slowness of my pace is making me nuts.

Only 4-1/2 weeks until vacation. Thank goodness!

I'm so glad you are enjoying the Mary Russell series. I love it.

Anonymous said...

After some initial skepticism, I've come to love this series as well. You're luck to have quite a few left to read, I'm eagerly awaiting the next instalment.

Cath said...

I think you did just write this post, Tara. ;-) Perhaps Readingslumpitis is catching because I'm seeing it everywhere at the moment. Hope yours is improving.

Kay, it does drive you nuts doesn't it. And I'm not really the kind of person that feels they have to rush madly through every book, but a week is long enough, imo!

I hope the 4-1/2 weeks goes quickly!

Hi Sarah, yes I think I am lucky to have some of this series left to read. I really hope she *is* writing more.

Nan said...

Cath, I may have commented before how much I enjoy these books. I find Holmes to be such a better man than in his own books -these people ARE real, aren't they! :<) I love their relationship. You might want to try the Recorded Books versions a listen if available. Jenny Sterlin does the best job with their voices, which of course makes them even more real as people. I also love the device the author uses at the very start. Great, great books. I think The Moor might be my favorite because in its pages we meet Sabine Baring-Gould, who was indeed a real person.
PS I don't know what a reading slump is. I read about it a lot of places, but honestly have never had one.

Nan said...

Me again. "try a listen" (from last comment) that's good grammar. :<) Sorry. I meant to say "give a listen."

Cath said...

Nan, I'm not sure I don't prefer Laurie King's Holmes to Conan Doyle's as well. He's more human somehow but still the Sherlock Holmes we know and love. I just moved The Moor closer to the top of the tbr pile - you're not the only person whose favourite that is. ;-)

I will try the audio version. The library may have it and it would be fun to listen to on long car trips.